With Prince of Fools, Mark Lawrence takes us back to the Broken Empire in the first book of The Red Queen’s War trilogy. While this story isn’t as brutal or ruthless as the The Broken Empire trilogy, it suffers no lack of action- or blood for that matter. And Prince Jalan- a gambling, womanizing coward who would never turn on a friend… “unless it requires honesty, fair play, or bravery to avoid doing so”- is a distinct departure from the moody and vengeful Honorous Jorg Ancrath of the first trilogy. And he’s a lot more fun!
Although this dark fantasy is told from the first-person perspective of Prince Jalan, it’s actually a buddy-comedy. Albeit a very dark, bloody, and somewhat tragic buddy-comedy. A handsome yet cowardly lothario and an indomitable Viking hero become reluctant allies after they are inhabited by the forces of light and darkness, respectively, and discover that straying too far apart will kill them. And their possession of these forces just so happens to make a mysterious villain- known as the Dead King- want to send super-powerful, nigh-imossible-to-kill dead things after them. They set off to fulfill the mysterious whims of the powers inhabiting them, whilst trying to remain uncorrupted by the influence of each other; Snorri protecting his honor, and Jal protecting his cowardly hide.
Despite the travelers facing bloody horrors and barely surviving impossible terrain, the jovial and ludicrously narcissistic recount by the cowardly prince brings an air of levity to even some of the grimmest scenes. In contrast, it makes the sad and bitter scenes all the more touching and tragic.
Something I liked that I usually find boring and tedious, was the way Lawrence approached Snorri’s back-story- laying it out in pieces as a “story in a story.” During these glimpses into the character’s past, the perspective switched to the third person and was presented as a small part in an epic tale. It left me eager for the next installment, rather than wanting to gouge my eyes out (ie. my usual reaction). It didn’t hurt that the tale was about a character as intriguing as Snorri ver Snaggason.
While you don’t have to read The Broken Empire trilogy in order to understand Prince of Fools, I would definitely recommend it. The comprehension that comes from reading the trilogy adds depth, irony, and sometimes hilarity. (Such as that “meaningless” thorns rune.)
Though Prince Jalan Kendeth couldn’t be more different from Honorous Jorg Ancrath, the story is still set in the Broken Empire parallel to events in the Broken Empire series. And since I am human, I can not resist comparing the two.
Jorg- whose first-person narrative we follow in The Broken Empire series- is a much smarter, much more serious, much more introspective character, so we don’t get as many insights and revelatory quotables with Jalan. The trade-off, though, is humor. Not that Jorg wasn’t funny, but it was a dry, ironic kind of humor that usually involved corpses and made you grimace as you giggled. Jalan, on the other hand, lets you laugh with a clear conscience at his ridiculous antics and philosophies such as this one: “They call it a deadly sin, but in my experience, lust will get you into more trouble, and sloth’s only a sin when being chased.”
The only thing I didn’t like is that, since this is the first book of the series, I have to wait (probably until next year) before I can read the next book. It has yet to be seen whether Prince Jalan will still be a fool by the end of his adventures, but I’m certainly going to be along for the ride.
Prince of Fools will be released Jun. 3 by Ace Books and is currently available for pre-order through Amazon. You can also try your luck in the many contests for ARCs by following the author on twitter.